Suiter a smash hit
It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Aspen native Lizzie Suiter.And Suiter, the starting middle blocker of the Stanford University women’s volleyball team, is loving it.Two weekends ago, Suiter and the Stanford squad were in Green Bay, Wis., where No. 11-seed Stanford dispatched Jacksonville three games to none and then Florida 3-2 to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division I National Volleyball Tournament. In Tallahassee, Fla., last weekend, Suiter and company swept Texas and then Wisconsin in straight games to emerge from the 64-team field as one of the Final Four teams.Yesterday, the 20-year-old Suiter was back near campus, but only for the night. Today, the team planned to travel to Long Beach, Calif., in preparation for Thursday’s semifinal match against Washington.”With all the traveling, I don’t even have a time zone anymore. I just threw away my watch,” a chuckling Suiter said in a telephone interview Monday from Palo Alto, Calif. “My head’s all jumbled up.”Not that Suiter, a 2003 Aspen High graduate and former star of the Skiers’ volleyball and basketball teams, is complaining.
On Thursday, she and her teammates will be playing in the biggest game of their lives.”All tournament we could never say, ‘We have nothing to lose.’ Because you could, you could lose your whole season,” said Suiter, whose parents, Gary and Fran, live in Carbondale. “But now that we’re in the Final Four, you put everything aside, let go of all the fears and take chances.”Five-time national champion Stanford is making its 15th appearance in the Final Four. And at No. 11, Stanford enters as the lowest seeded team – Washington is No. 7, while Southern California and Minnesota are seeded No. 8 and No. 4, respectively, on the other side of the bracket.Not that that matters now.”When we started playing last spring and then in the preseason in August, no one expected anything from us,” Suiter said. “This was supposed to be a rebuilding year in every sense. Then magical things started to happen. We beat USC, the two-time defending national champs, and then we beat the No. 1-ranked team, Washington.”And we pretty much were peaking at the perfect time, right at the start of the tournament.”Suiter, a true sophomore, took over as a starter this season and now ranks second in the PAC-10 in blocks (and is in the top 25 nationally). She’s tied with former Olympian Bev Oden for third as Stanford’s single-season blocks leader, and she was the only Stanford player named to the 2004 PAC-10 All-Academic First Team. She plans to major in communications and minor in economics.
Suiter, however, shrugs off the personal accolades.”It’s not really me, it’s our system that works so well. And,” she said, “I have really huge hands.”Suiter is listed at 6-foot-2 in Stanford literature, but she confesses that’s a reach. “Barefoot, I’m under 6-1. With shoes on, I’m a solid 6-1. But for the roster, you’ve got to jack it up a bit,” she said.Suiter started playing volleyball during her middle school years in Aspen. “When you’re tall, it’s always assumed you’re going to be a basketball, volleyball player. And when I got into it, I liked to jump and I had these big gorilla arms, but I really just loved it and pursued it, and now I’m going to college for free for it,” she said.The Stanford-Washington semifinal match is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aspen time. The game is scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN2, with a 2.5-hour delay, beginning at 9 p.m., but viewers should confirm with local listings.The championship game, slated for noon on Saturday, will be aired live on ESPN2.Stanford, which always sells out its home games, will likely be playing in front of some 10,000 for Thursday’s game in Long Beach, Suiter said.
“Playing on FOX Sports TV is one thing,” she said, “but ESPN is a whole different ballgame, playing in front of that many people. All of a sudden, people care. And I’m like, ‘Come on, are you kidding? I’m still a dork, let’s be honest.'”Indeed, the journey from Aspen High star to Stanford starter is still somewhat perplexing to the Aspenite.”Coming from a place like Aspen where volleyball isn’t necessarily a primary focus or even something that’s considered important in the culture, and then coming to Stanford were everyone knows your name because you’re on the volleyball team, it’s surreal. Very surreal,” she said.”It’s always loud and amazing with people with face paint and signs, and when you do something good, they chant your name. It’s really bizarre, and a little awkward at first. But you get used to it.”As for Stanford’s chances, Suiter likes what she sees.”Even though we’re the lowest seeded team, we’re still a threat because we’ve beaten two of the three teams there,” Suiter said. “When you walk into this program, you expect to win and you expect to be in the top five. And when I came into the program, they’d had a national championship and a runner-up the two years before me. When you step into these shoes, you have to hold yourself to that tradition, you have to have that pride. And that’s what makes Stanford volleyball great – we’re able to continue that legacy.”Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is email@example.com